At a time when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is finalizing a food security Act that will cost India more than Rs. 1 trillion and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi champions the tribal cause, Hindustan Times found how the Central and state governments, each blaming the other, have either not spent or diverted to the bureaucracy Rs. 72 crore meant to stop chronic malnutrition and hunger deaths among Rajasthan’s 90,000 Sahariya tribals.
The Rs. 72 crore constitutes the Sahariya Welfare Fund for the 11th Plan period, 2007-2012. It didn’t stop seven Sahariya children dying of hunger-related causes in 2009 and thousands living with hunger today.
Hindustan Times’ investigations reveal how over the years the funds were either not released by the Union government or not used in time by the state government. When some of the money was indeed used, the state diverted portions of it to construct homes or on other official needs.
“The Rajasthan government cannot possibly utilize the remaining sanctioned funds in the nine months that remain of the 11th Plan period,” said an official of the Planning Commission, on condition of anonymity. “These funds will lapse in March 2012.”
A study in 2010 by Doosra Dashak, a voluntary organization, in Brahmpura village—one of five Sahariya villages, about 300 km southwest of Jaipur—found 42.59% of the children of 1-5 years malnourished; 25.93% severely malnourished and 1.85% suffering severe, acute malnourishment, with little hope for survival.
The core of the Sahariya aid programmes—running “ma-baari” (mother-child) centres that run pre-schools children from the tribe, and stocking primary health centres with medicines and nutritional supplements, among other things—are aimed at addressing the widespread undernourishment crippling the community.
A Sahariya man'a woe: Part 2
But money hasn’t helped.
Of the Rs. 72 crore set aside for Sahariya welfare, the Centre has released only Rs. 23 crore. Of this, the Rajasthan government has used about half.
So far, the state has furnished utilization certificates for only Rs. 11 crore, said Prabhudayal Meena, joint secretary in the Union ministry of tribal affairs.
When the Rajasthan government actually used the money, here’s what happened:
•Three years ago, the state sanctioned Rs. 12 crore from the fund to construct 1,500 houses for the Sahariya tribals at a cost of Rs. 80,000 each. Only 52 were built.
•In 1994-95, the state spent Rs. 27.80 lakh from the Sahariya welfare kitty to construct 16 houses for government employees, said several state officials and civil society activists.
Rajasthan’s tribal affairs minister Mahendrajit Singh Malviya admitted money meant for the Sahariyas was spent on government employees.
“I do not have specific information, but it is likely that the houses were constructed,” Malviya said in an interview. “The state government is providing incentives to employees willing to take a posting to tribal areas. Even at Kotraa (Udaipur district), a residential hostel is being constructed from tribal area funds for the state government employees.”
The Centre gave no money to Rajasthan in 2009-10 because the state provided no proof of money spent, official documents show.
In the year to 31 March 2010, the state government used only one-third of the Rs. 12 crore given by the Centre under the programme. Official documents show it transferred the rest, Rs. 8 crore, to its public deposit account, where Rajasthan parks Central and state government funds that remain unused in a financial year.
Sahariya funds transferred by the Rajasthan government to the public deposit account have been growing: From Rs. 6.22 crore in 2007 to Rs. 8.22 crore in 2008 and Rs. 20.21 crore in the following year.
Sahariyas in a village in the Baran district.Photo:Himanshu Vyas
The figure dipped to Rs. 8.88 crore in 2010 but has risen since. As on 1 April, the public deposit account had Rs. 14.21 crore in unspent Sahariya funds.
“The blame-game between the Centre and state governments is routine and large amounts of funds are surrendered each year,” said Naresh Chandra Saxena, member of the National Advisory Council, a body headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi that provides policy and legislative inputs to the government. In 2009-10, state governments utilized Rs. 1,996.79 crore against budgetary estimates of Rs. 3,205.5 crore for tribals across India.
Another aberration is the infrastructure focus of the Sahariya welfare fund, say non-profit organizations working on tribal welfare.
In 2010-11, Rajasthan used Rs. 8 crore of the total Rs. 12 crore of Central funds for Sahariyas on buildings. In this fiscal year, it intends to spend Rs. 17 crore of the Rs. 18.79 crore received from Delhi on infrastructure, including schools and hostels.
Funding issues: The residential quarters built from the Sahariya development fund at Baran. Photo: Himanshu Vyas
“The administration raises huge buildings and then spends huge amounts on their upkeep,” said Moti Lal, convenor of an organization called Sankalp that works for the welfare of Sahariya tribals. “It is a big farce.”
Baran additional district magistrate Ram Prasad Meena lays the blame on Delhi. “The programmes are designed by the Centre,” he said.
“That is incorrect,” said Meena of the Union tribal affairs ministry. “Schemes are designed in consultation with the state governments, not unilaterally by the Central government.”
Shortly after the Congress won Rajasthan in December 2008, the Sahariya development committee, which supervises and monitors tribal welfare schemes, was disbanded. Disagreements over nominated candidates have prevented the formation of a new committee.
“The government’s rhetoric is right but its intentions remain ambiguous,” said Komal Srivastava of Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti, a voluntary organization that works for Sahariya welfare.
Baran district magistrate Navin Jain admits “gaps in implementation” of the welfare scheme but claims progress. “It is a tremendous achievement,” he said, “that the Sahariyas have now stopped dying from hunger.”
The report is the first in a two-part series on malnutrition in Rajasthan.
Tomorrow: Among the Sahariyas, India collapses. (The “Tracking Hunger” series is a nationwide effort to track, investigate and report India’s struggle against hunger and malnutrition. This special report on malnutrition is the result of a fellowship jointly awarded by Save The Children and Mint. To know more about Save The Children:www.savethechildren.in)
Read second this series: Among the Sahariyas, India falls apart